My research interests
I am fascinated with the harsh reality of day-to-day product development. I think theories and methods are valuable, but to me what’s interesting is what happens when product development teams try to implement them. My focus is on user-centered product development practice, because intriguing phenomenons arise when development teams deal with non-quantifiable product qualities such as usability. I mostly use qualitative research approaches, such as case study research, in which I take an integrated approach. This means I study the product innovation process from start to finish and not just the design phase or just activities labeled as user-centred, such as user testing, cognitive walkthrough, home visits. And, as the user experience is influenced by the whole development team, I don’t just include the user-centered roles as informants, but the whole team.
Managing product usability
In my PhD research I studied how usability is dealt with in product development practice. In December 2010 I defended my PhD thesis: Managing Product Usability; how companies deal with usability in the development of electronic consumer products.’
I have studied what factors in the product development of electronic consumer products influence their usability. So for example, does it matter how big your product portfolio is? What usability methods do companies apply in practice? How does a designer go about when trying to design a ‘usable’ product? In order to get a grip on these issues I have conducted three case studies. In the first one we investigated how four companies in adjacent sectors to electronic consumer products dealt with usability. In the second study we interviewed product developers at five major electronic consumer products companies to identify barriers and enablers for usability. And in the final case study we studied three development projects at one product development group, in order to trace the origins of usability issues in the three products.
Design for usability project
My PhD research was a part of the Design for Usability project, funded by the Dutch government’s IOP research programme and four companies. The goal of this project is to reduce usability problems with electronic products by developing a coherent design methodology to anticipate expectations and needs of users on the one hand, and the influence of products on product usage on the other. The research project is a collaboration of three Dutch universities and the companies Philips, Océ, Thales and Indes. The project is divided into five sub-projects (of which this research is one):
- Use problems: how to estimate the risk of usability problems in the field during a new product development process?
- User characteristics: which user characteristics are deeply involved in user-product interactions that lead to satisfactory or dissatisfactory usability?
- Product impact: how can the influence of products on the behaviour and attitudes of users be taken into consideration in the design process?
- Company processes (my thesis): What are barriers and enablers in product development practice for the usability of electronic consumer products?
- Development methodology: what should a design method, which is at least applicable to the development of electronic products, look like in order to minimize usability problems?